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Byline: By BETH NEIL

HE'S bigger than Beckham, has more clout than Clooney and boasts better pecs than Pitt.

He's won enough awards to fill a dozen mantelpieces in his three luxury homes, has an entourage to rival any Hollywood diva, drives flash cars, wears nothing but designer clothes and has adoring women falling at his manicured feet.

And he's British.

Yet most people here will never have heard of Upen Patel.

For the uninitiated, he is Bollywood's latest superstar. His movies are raking in millions at the box office and this month an incredible one billion people around the world watched him scoop the prestigious International Indian Film Academy award for Best Newcomer, Bollywood's equivalent of an Oscar.

Not bad for a born-and-bred Brit who a few years ago was a hard-up student living in North London.

"This sort of thing doesn't happen to ordinary lads from Wembley," he says. "I come from a normal family. Now young girls come up to my mum and tell her they have my poster on their bedroom walls. My mum gets very shocked and asks me, 'Is this what teenage girls do these days?'"

At 26, Upen oozes confidence. He talks quite matter-of-factly about how Bollywood "fell in love" with him.

Is he arrogant? Yes. But he combines this self-assurance with an innocent charm that makes him actually rather sweet.

Four years ago Upen was plucked from obscurity and launched as India's leading male supermodel.

He'd just completed a degree in computer science and was all set for a career in IT when a Mumbai-based photographer spotted him in London and invited him over to India's Fashion Week.

The press went loopy over this sexy, mysterious newcomer and Upen ended up stealing the show.

"It was mad," he says. "I'd been a student living on microwave food. All of a sudden I was in every magazine in India. My picture was up on billboards. I had enough money to buy a house and a car and I was still only 22. Life changed overnight.

"The media wanted to know everything about me. I did 150 campaigns, went on to do four Fashion Weeks and won countless awards."

He reels off his long list of honours without batting an eyelid. Upen doesn't do modesty.

"I was Male Model Of The Year for two years running, I was MTV's Most Stylish Male for two years in a row, voted Sexiest Man In India in 2005, I won four F Awards, Best Commercial Face three years in a row, Best Male Model In India..." You get the picture.

And the rewards duly followed. "I don't talk about money," Upen says coyly. "But I'm more comfortable than I ever thought I would be. I'm living a life I could only have dreamed about.

"I have three cars, I own two houses in India and a property in Mauritius. I've been able to buy my parents a house in Epping. And I've paid for holidays for my family to the most beautiful places."

Having conquered the catwalk and photoshoot, Upen knew it was time to move on. "After four years I was bored and it was time to try something different," he says.

Fortunately, leading Bollywood producer Subhash Ghai asked Upen to try out for a few parts.

Three months of acting and Hindi language courses later, Upen found himself in Mauritius shooting his movie debut, 36 China Town.

On its release in May last year, it received mixed reviews. But the critics were united on one front - Upen Patel was the new prince of Bollywood.

UPEN encountered initial snobbery over his humble roots and English accent.

"I countered early criticism by winning awards," he says. "But there were always people who believed in me."

With the multi-billion-pound Bollywood industry outstripping Hollywood in ticket sales, he has joined an elite set of stars. His debut was quickly followed by Namaste London and Shakalaka Boom Boom and 18 more films are in the pipeline.

He is mobbed in Mumbai and has bodyguards to protect him. In his London boutique hotel he bumps into Celebrity Big Brother winner and fellow Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty and the two greet each other like old friends.

"Shilpa's done brilliantly," says Upen later. "But I'd never do something like BB. I don't want to be known for being on reality TV, I want to be known for my work. I'm not interested in being a sex symbol."

Despite that, interest in his love life is relentless. Upen has been single for 10 months since breaking up with model and presenter Shamita Singha and the country is desperate to know who he'll date next.

"Everything I do gets splashed in the papers," he moans. "I can't go out to dinner with a female friend without getting linked romantically to her. It gets embarrassing.

"I've been single for a while now but I'm looking for love. I'm definitely open to offers. I'm young and dating and breaking up is part of life. I've had a few bad experiences with girls - I never know whether they're interested in me or my fame."

But for now, he's just enjoying the ride. And he hopes to become a role model for other British Asians. "When I was young, I never had an Indian footballer or pop star to look up to," says Spurs fanatic Upen. "I want to inspire British Asians to follow their dreams.

"I live in India but I'll always be British. I'm flying the flag for Britain."


BOYISH CHARM: Upen as a young boy, and Brad Pitt; ALL THE RAJ: Brit Upen was plucked from obscurity four years ago; ON A ROLE: Getting an Indian Oscar, far left. With journalist Wersha Bharadwa at a premiere in Castleford, and stills from his films Picture: MIKE MOORE
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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